Courses of Study 2013-2014 
    Oct 20, 2020  
Courses of Study 2013-2014 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

In the College of Engineering .

 Course Offerings 


L. D. Brown, chair; A. T. DeGaetano, associate chair;  R. W. Allmendinger, W. D.  Allmon, T. R. Ault, L. M. Cathles, G. Chen, J. L. Cisne, S. J. Colucci, L. A. Derry, C. H. Greene, D. L. Hysell, T. E. Jordan, R. W. Kay, S. Mahlburg Kay, R.  Lohman, N. Mahowald, M. Pritchard, S. J. Riha, J. F. H. Thompson, W. M. White, D. S. Wilks, M. W. Wysocki

Science of Earth Systems (SES):

Offered by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Contact: 2124 Snee Hall, (607) 255-5466,

The Earth Sciences have never been more critical to society than they are today. Global warming, dwindling energy resources, inadequate water supplies, political strife  over strategic minerals, and megadisasters threatened by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami, and hurricanes: these are but a few of the headlines that appear with increasing frequency. The Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell is a global leader in research directed toward understanding the fundamental processes that have shaped our planet, and is committed to providing Cornell students with the earth literacy needed to serve as informed citizens and wise stewards of the Earth. EAS faculty members and graduate students carry out frontier research on both basic and applied aspects of subjects as diverse as satellite monitoring of volcanic activity, the deep structure of the Andes Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, the nature of the earth’s ionosphere, ocean acoustics, controls on global climate, and improved weather prediction.

The Science of Earth Systems (SES) major is the undergraduate program offered by EAS to Cornell students in the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of  Agriculture and Life Sciences. Students in this program can pursue education and research that prepares them to compete for careers or graduate study at leading  institutions in this country and abroad. Students may chose to focus on one of a number of disciplinary specialties, such as geophysics or tectonics, or develop the broad expertise needed to understand the interactions between the diverse elements of earth and life in the past, present, and future. By analyzing the complex relations among  the ocean, solid earth, atmosphere, and biosphere, students can help meet society’s growing demand for energy, minerals, and clean water as well as contribute to  mitigating the negative impacts related to global warming, rising sea level, natural hazards, and decreasing biodiversity.

The SES program is intrinsically interdisciplinary, involving many branches of science and engineering. Examples of the latter include civil and environmental engineering, biological and environmental engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and electrical and computer engineering. The SES program is unique in that it incorporates the fundamentals of Earth Science with the emergence of a new and more complete approach that encompasses all components of the earth system—air, life, rock, and water—to gain a new and more comprehensive understanding of the world as we know it.

To achieve a complete understanding of these important issues, students must have a desire to take a very hands-on approach. An abundance of opportunities exists for geological, oceanographic, and meteorological research in the field and for nationwide and international travel as well as paid research experience. Students have worked with faculty members in the Andes, the Aleutians, the Rocky Mountains, the Atacama Desert, the Caribbean, Tibet, and Hawaii, and have spent a semester at sea in the Woods Hole Ocean Studies Program. Students are also able to probe the ionosphere of Earth and the surface of Mars by utilizing techniques in remote sensing.

The SES major provides a strong preparation for graduate school in any one of the earth sciences, such as atmospheric sciences, geological sciences, geophysics, geochemistry, oceanography, hydrology, and biogeochemistry. Students seeking employment with the B.A. or B.S. degree will have many options in a wide variety of careers related to energy, the environment, and critical resources in both the private sector and government. Students with the strong science background provided by the SES major are also highly valued by graduate programs in environmental law, public affairs, economics, and public policy.

Requirements for the Major:

1. Basic Math and Sciences:

This part of the SES curriculum builds a strong and diverse knowledge of fundamental science and mathematics, providing the student with the basic tools needed in upper-level science classes.

e. Advisor-Approved Course in Math, Statistics, Computer Science or Natural Science:

  • An advisor-approved course in statistics or computer science, or an additional advisor-approved course in mathematics or natural science, including, but not limited to, a course in astronomy, a second course in biology or an additional course in physics or chemistry. 

Please note:  If a student elects to count CS 1110  (or CS 1112 , or CS 1114 , or CS 1115  ) as their advisor approved course in Statistics, Computer Science, Math or Natural Science, an additional major approved elective is required.

2. Required Introductory Course:

  • EAS 2200 - The Earth System (crosslisted)
  • Please note:  If a student elects to count EAS/ENGRD 2200 as an ENGRD, an additional major approved elective is required.

3. SES Core Courses:

The core courses emphasize the interconnectedness of the Earth system and are founded on the most modern views of the planet as an interactive and ever-changing system. Each crosses the traditional boundaries of disciplinary science. Students are required to take at least three courses from the following five core course options:

4. Concentration Courses:

The concentration is achieved by completing four intermediate to advanced-level courses (3000-level and up) that build on the core courses and have prerequisites in the required basic sciences and mathematics courses. These courses must be approved by the student’s advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Note that additional basic math and science courses may be required to complete the concentration courses, depending upon the student’s choice of concentration. The concentration courses build depth and provide the student with a specific expertise in some facet of Earth system science. Four concentrations are defined for the major: atmospheric sciences, biogeochemistry, geological sciences, and ocean sciences. Other concentrations can be tailored to a student’s interests in consultation with the student’s advisor and upon approval of the SES curriculum committee. Examples include mathematical geosciences, geohydrology and planetary science. The concentration should be chosen during the junior year or before in consultation with the student’s advisor and with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

5. Field Experience:

Exposure to the basic observations of earth science in the field is necessary to understand fully the chosen area of concentration in the major. A minimum of 3 credits of appropriate course work is required, although more experience with field work is encouraged.  Possibilities include the following:

  • EAS 2500 - Meteorological Observations and Instruments
  • EAS 3400 - Field Study of the Earth System (given as part of the Earth and Environmental Systems Field Program in Hawaii)
  • EAS 4170 - [Field Mapping in Argentina]
  • Courses in SEA Semester
  • Field courses offered at Shoals Marine Laboratory*
  • Field courses taught by another college or university*
  • Another option is for students to gain experience by working in the field with a faculty member on a research project (or REU at another university)*
  • * Pre-approval is required for options marked with (*) by the student’s advisor and the SES curriculum committee.  In addition, students who receive pre-approval are required to give a presentation on their field work when they return. These courses/internships/REU’s should require observations to be taken in the field as well as interpreted by the student.  Most field courses should require 40+ hours of active observation and data collection in the field.  If students use a non-credit research option for the field course requirement, they are required to complete another 3+ credits of concentration courses.

6. Electives:

  • One major approved elective at the 3000-level or above.  This course must be approved by the student’s advisor.
  • Three outside major electives.  These courses must be approved by the student’s advisor.

Academic Standards:

  • Students must receive a C- or better in all major required courses.
  • Students must take all major required courses for a letter grade.

Honors Program:

An honors program is offered by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences for superior students.  Students interested in applying should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies during the second semester of their junior year or very early in the first semester of their senior year. 

Additional Information:

For more information contact Savannah Sawyer, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, or visit

Cornell University Field Program in Earth and Environmental Systems:

Field study is a fundamental aspect of earth system science. Students wishing to increase their field experience may fulfill some of the requirements for the Science of Earth Systems major by off-campus study through the Cornell University Field Program in Earth and Environmental Systems (EES). The EES program, offered during the spring semester, emphasizes field-based education and research. It is based on the island of Hawaii, an outstanding natural laboratory for earth and environmental sciences. Courses that may be applied to the Science of Earth Systems major include EAS 3220 ,EAS 3400  and EAS 3510 . The EES program also offers opportunities for internships with various academic, nonprofit, and government organizations. Typically, students participate in the EES program during their junior year, although exceptions are possible. For further information, see